Sixty years of African unity

On May 25, the African continent celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU). On that date in 1963, 32 Heads of independent African States met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, along with leaders from African liberation movements to chart a way forward for Africa’s complete independence from imperialism, colonialism and apartheid. The outcome of the meeting was the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).


The main objectives of the OAU were; to rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid; to promote unity and solidarity among African States; to coordinate and intensify cooperation for development; to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member States and to promote international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations.

The OAU was a bold attempt by the continent to assume total control of its own destiny. This was crystalized in the membership of the continental body rising to 55 from the initial number that formed the OAU. By 1999, the organisation had almost accomplished its mission of independence for the countries in the region, hence the decision to evolve into a full political union, with an agenda to shift from focusing on liberation movements to creating a politically and economically unified African bloc. That vision, gave rise to the formation of the African Union. It was officially launched in 2002 as a successor to the Organisation of African Unity.

Sixty years after, the organisation has made remarkable progress in galvanizing the continent into a strong and formidable voice on major global issues. It has also recorded tremendous successes in decolonization of the continent. However, there is much to be done, particularly in good governance, democracy, human rights, economic emancipation and positioning Africa to keep pace with the fast-changing realities in the world. The celebration of the 60th anniversary of African unity provided an opportunity to recognise the role and contribution of the founders of the continental organisation and many other Africans on the continent and in the diaspora who have contributed greatly to the political liberation of the continent and the socio-economic emancipation of Africa.

AU should use the 60th anniversary to review the achievements of the organisation as well as the strategies to realise its 2063 agenda, which is to attain a peaceful, secure and prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth, sustainable development and an integrated continent that is politically united. For the leadership of the continent, the 60th anniversary of AU is a moment to reflect on pan-Africanism and future plans for the continent. Beyond that, the 60 years of the organisation is an occasion for stock-taking. The objectives of the AU at instituting good governance and economic prosperity of the citizens of the member states are far from being achieved. Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia.

With a population of 1,433,706,775 as of Sunday, May 28, 2023, based on the latest United Nations estimates, Africa’s population is equivalent to 16.72 per cent of the global population. The continent is rich in human and material resources. Despite the abundance of natural resources, available statistics show  that Africa is the least wealthy continent per capita and second-least wealthy by total wealth, behind Oceania. The region is still bedeviled by mass poverty and political instability. As the OAU/AU marks 60 years of existence, Sudan, is in the throes of a civil war due to disagreements between two military leaders in the country. In Chad, Guinea and Mali, coups have made a comeback and Islamic extremism is gaining ground. In Nigeria and some other member countries, terrorism and insurgency are on the rise.

Unfortunately, Africa is still home to some sit-tight leaders, who have virtually proscribed democracy and good governance in their countries. Earlier, a shocking disclosure by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that about 672 million Africans, representing 48 per cent of the continent’s population, lack access to the quality health care they needed. WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, who made the revelation during the 2023 World Health Day (WHD), attributed the shortfall to weak health systems characterised by inadequate health infrastructure; poorly designed policies to limit financial barriers to health services. In 2022, over 779 million people in Africa lacked basic sanitation services, while 208 million still practised open defecation.

Governance in Africa is still low and rule of law is abysmal in some countries. Many African countries are still saddled with leadership challenges. Let the AU put in place policies to ensure good governance and economic development in Africa. The AU charter needs a review in line with the current global realities. AU leaders should think more of the people than themselves.   

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